Imagine this scenario.
Your favorite football team is in a huddle. They’re behind by six points, there’s one minute left on the clock, they’re on their own 40-yard line, and it’s 4th and 9 (fourth down and nine yards to go). While you’re watching the game from a special VIP box, you’re handed a headset that lets you listen to the huddle conversation led by the quarterback. You put it on, and hear:
“Okay guys, listen up. We’re in a tight spot here. Does anybody have any advice based on your days playing college ball, your time with other teams, or some tips and tricks that you’ve read recently?”
I defy you… tell me you wouldn’t practically choke on a chip when you start ranting.
Of course, this would never happen, would it?
There isn’t a winning pro sports team that doesn’t have a well-designed, well-rehearsed playbook that is known by everyone on the team. They have a common language, speak its shorthand, commit the plays to memory, and don’t bring in stuff from the outside that isn’t vetted, proven-effective, approved by the coaches, and rehearsed to mastery. Sure, the coaches and quarterback (QB) occasionally get creative, and the QB might “call an audible,” meaning to change the play in real-time before the ball is hiked, based on situational fluency. But by and large, games are won by smart play selection (strategy) and outstanding execution. Games are not won based on random ideas, tips and tricks, or free-for-all thinking.
By contrast, many sales forces are built on advice from multiple sources, tips and tricks, generic sales guru guidance, and a random mash-up of methodologies that no one can accurately document, describe, teach, replicate, coach to, or master. There’s no common language, no foundation of sales competencies, and no aligned approach. It’s a free-for-all. And, somehow, this is endorsed or at least allowed by company and sales leaders.
Some reps use methods they’ve picked up along the way in other jobs, from personal experience, from mentors, and in some cases, formal training programs. They qualify with an outdated BANT framework, or one of the multiple versions of MEDDIC (some which are trademarked), SCOTSMAN, FAINT, CCBANT, ANUM, or another qualification method. They use terms like Economic Buyer, which come from other commercial training programs, and endorse their favorite books, such as SPIN Selling or The Challenger Sale (whether or not those are endorsed by the company). Some follow a process to “resolve buyer concerns” while others fire off responses to “overcome objections” (one of the least buyer-centric phrases in selling today) that rival Al Jaffee’s Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions from MAD Magazine. And many are using these and other various informal methodology choices, all within the same company. Sometimes, it’s like the Wild West out there.
The Problem With “Tips & Tricks”
Does this mix-and-match mash-up of methodologies work? The answer depends on how you define “work.” It certainly produces the level of results we see from the average sales force today. Studies vary, but there are some concerning trends brewing.
- Quota attainment is steadily trending down (although, in fairness, the reasons for that are varied).
- Research indicates that buying behavior is evolving far faster than selling behavior is adapting. Sellers often fail to meet buyer expectations.
- We’ve heard recently that Millennial B2B buyers prefer to avoid sellers and place more faith in a self-service approach.
- Managers believe they coach far more often than reps report being coached, and that “coaching” is often firing off feedback, rather than developing skills (from their chosen methodology).
- “No Decision” status on opportunities continues to average around 25 percent – just under the percentage of losses to a competitor.
Speaking generally, sales results aren’t what we’d hope for and won’t change unless we do something differently. Perhaps the thing that bothers me the most, is the unrealized potential. In many businesses with whom I’ve worked (both employers and clients), I’ve seen the potential to double sales results, without increasing the size of the sales force. But, as motivating as I’d hope that reasoning would be, it isn’t the only reason to establish a formal methodology instead of a stitched-together, “Frankenstein methodology,” based on happenstance. There are a lot of nuances in the sales profession to account for when selecting a methodology. Here is just a sampling:
- B2B vs. B2C
- Product vs. Service
- Tangible vs. Intangible
- High-Ticket (Price Point) vs. Low-Ticket
- Flow Transactions (Supplier Selection) vs. a Solution (Purchase/Implement)
- Long Sales Cycle vs. Short Sales Cycle
- Multiple Decision-Makers vs. One (or Few) Decision-Makers
- Executive vs. Middle Managers vs. Front-line Buyers (or a Mix)
- Outbound vs. Inbound
- Outside vs. Inside
- Prospecting vs. RFI/RFP Responses
I’ll disclaim this next statement by saying I’m a veracious reader and do believe business and sales professionals should read books. A few years ago, to make a point, I started quipping that business books were dangerous. It’s hyperbole, but I say it because of authors who “had an experience” somewhere, where something they did worked, and they write about it as if it is a silver bullet that will work anywhere, under any conditions, in any company. Sellers often take this out-of-context advice and try to apply it to their very specific situation, without regard to the nuances, or relevance, or without management buy-in or support of the approaches. There is lot of great content published by true sales experts. There is also a lot of content from people who were “circumstantially successful” and some that is just plain garbage, seller-centric, or manipulative. And to my point about sales nuances, even the best approach in some circumstances is not the right approach in all.
Consider these points about methodology, as well:
- Many commercial methodologies do not cover the full customer lifecycle.
- Gaps in methodology can decrease effectiveness.
- Stitching methodologies together can backfire if they are not compatible or paired well.
- Many methodologies are very detailed, complex, and challenging to use and implement.
- The above points can decrease retention, application, and overall adoption, which hampers results.
The Power and Benefits of an Aligned Sales Methodology
In contrast to the above, there are so many benefits to implementing and managing an aligned sales methodology. The methodology should be aligned to your sales process, and both should be aligned to your customers’ buying process.
According to a study conducted by Vantage Point Performance and the Sales Management Association, B2B companies that defined a formal sales process (which is supported by methodology) experienced 18 percent more revenue growth compared to companies that didn’t.
Another study conducted by Steve W. Martin also showed that high-performing sales organizations employ a more structured sales process.
"Your job as a sales leader is to figure out which methodology is going to work best when it comes to executing your sales process with your target personas."
- Mike Kunkle, in HubSpot’s Sales Management Certification
In a CSO Insights’ sales enablement study, only 19 percent of respondents dynamically aligned their sales process to their customers’ buying journey, but those that did, enjoyed 17.9 percent higher win rates and 11.8 percent higher quota attainment. Even more importantly, they also determined that, “Only sales process and sales methodology adoption rates above 75 percent resulted in above average results for revenue plan attainment, quota attainment, and win rates.”
If you want to get above-average results, you need to go the extra mile to align process and methodology and foster adoption.
The Best “Sales Tip” You’ll Get
So, as a sales leader, what should you and your teams do? AVOID advice from gurus? Not read books?
Of course not. But you should proceed with caution when acting on outside advice, vetting recommendations to ensure they fit your company, and then customize any recommendations you adopt, based on the nuances you and your team live daily. Do this before you put something new into the content repository of effective practices that your reps will learn, and your front-line sales managers will pull from when coaching. Most importantly, whatever you adopt must become a part of the big picture at your company… part of your sales processes, your sales methodologies, the common language you speak at your company, and fully integrated into and supported by your sales systems.
As Geary Rummler said, “If you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time.” Your job as a leader is to create or select your processes and methodologies, workplace environment and culture, systems, and tools that enable greater success for your sales team – not leave it to chance.
And that, my friends, is advice worth heeding. Forget silver bullets. Educate yourself, but also be wary of specific tactical sales advice from the outside. Instead, spend your time learning and using proven methods that will help you determine and hone what you should be doing, within an aligned sales system, that you can train, coach to, support, and measure, purposefully.
Considerations for Selecting a Methodology
As you review and select methodologies, consider your situation and sales nuances. This includes what I’ve already mentioned above and extends further to the points below.
Do your reps…
- Sell what buyers already know they need (making the best vendor choice)?
- Problem-solve and help buyers determine the best-fit solution?
- Co-create solutions together, with a mix of engagement (sellers/buyers/partners)?
- Create opportunities with insights and teach a better path forward?
- Support buyers and customers across your entire customer lifecycle, or only parts of it?
- Prospect, qualify, manage opportunities, negotiate, or manage accounts?
What do your sellers face? What is the…
- Ease or complexity of problems they solve with your products/solutions?
- Number of buyers and decision makers with whom they typically engage?
- Length of the sales cycle (3-touch vs. 18-months or somewhere in between)?
Can you implement the methodology to get the adoption you need? (Goal: above 75%)
- How effective is the learning experience? Will reps want to take it? Is it performance-based, teaching reps what they need to do on-the-job?
- Does it use evidence-based learning science, like spaced repetition, retrieval learning, practice with feedback loops, and transfer support?
- Does it engage front-line sales managers to learn the methodology, reinforce it, and coach to it?
Do you know it will get results for you?
- How does it sync with what your top 4 percent of performers do? (They’re the top 20 percent of the top 20 percent.)
- Does it support how your buyer personas prefer to buy, learn, and make purchase decisions?
- What’s the ease or complexity of the methodology itself (is it learnable, adoptable, sustainable)?
- Is it truly buyer centric, value focused, and outcome oriented?
- If your training materials (the methodology content) accidentally fell into the hands of your top customers, would you be mortified, or proud?
Considering these factors will help you determine how successful the methodology will be.
Army of Robots?
I make no claims for being psychic, but I have had these discussions with a lot of sales leaders over the years. Eventually, I’m usually asked whether implementing a methodology can be overdone, and sometimes, I’ve been challenged about whether I’m trying to create an army of robots, all doing the same things the same way. To address both of these points… Can this be overdone? Yes! Of course, it can. Almost anything taken to the extreme can be detrimental. Use good judgment, considering the things we’ve discussed in this article and the evolving marketplace.
Next, am I trying to create an army of robots? For this, my answer is, “No, and…” No, I especially don’t want to create an army of mindless robots. I don’t want to overdo it, as mentioned. I don’t want to suspend good judgment, and I certainly don’t want to remove your reps’ experience or personality from the equation.
And, at the same time, I do want you – and hopefully your organization – to create a repeatable, replicable path to success, for both your front-line sales managers and for your sales teams. If we know that good people can be derailed by ineffective systems, we need to get great sales systems in place.
We need great sellers and managers doing things in similar ways, in similar patterns or cadences, to get the best results possible. We should be reasonably flexible and adaptive, without creating a free-for-all that can’t be corralled. Hopefully, you’ll share what’s working with each other, and evolve your approach over time, making it more and more of your own. Yet, still with the discipline, focus, effectiveness, and vetting that produces the best possible result.
Explore our sales training course catalog to equip your sales team with the necessary skills to accelerate sales and profitability.
You know who disagrees with this post? Sales training vendors who try to differentiate with deep customization (and who charge handsomely for the service).
Instead of developing a sales training program that was designed to be customized for the client company, we purposefully did the exact opposite when we created Modern Sales Foundations. We provide foundational mindsets, concepts, frameworks, models, skills, and steps. We teach sales managers first and have them lead reinforcement sessions with Q&A, discussions, exercises, worksheets, and practice sessions. And we dole it out one week at a time, to take advantage of the drip-method, spaced repetition, and retrieval learning, to encourage learning, retention, skill development, application, and transfer. We did want to provide examples and tell an episodic story, so we created a fictional company, AirCo Solutions, for that purpose. Learners step outside their world into AirCo, learn the concepts, and then bring them back into their world.
On paper, when you step back and look at the whole implementation, it looks like a marathon. In practice, however, once you get started, it feels like a short walk, once a week. And the weekly interactions between managers and their sellers, with engaged discussion and practice, is what connects the dots to their real world better than we ever could.
This is how people really learn. And, it’s how you get adoption and mastery, leading to behavior change, which leads to better results.
I wish more CEOs, sales leaders, sales and rev ops leaders, and enablers were tuned into this. This is the thinking that allows sellers and sales forces to move beyond rote messaging to develop the judgment to be truly adaptive. It reminds me of the old parable, about the difference between “give a man a fish” (and he eats for a day) and “teach a man to fish” (and he eats for a lifetime). And eventually, you can get to, “Help a man think about fishing, and he can teach others.”
And that’s how you move the needle on the metrics that matter most – not with customization.